I find myself fascinated with the prospect of peeling back the mind of Bryan Hitch and discovering the exact inspiration for all of the various allusions and references, twists and turns, characters and circumstances, which comprise his current run on Justice League. This is not because the book is by any means great – it decidedly is not – nor because it has a great deal of depth. Quite the opposite, in fact. It seems shallow enough that to skim the surface might very well reveal most of what there is to find to his creative process. Unlike better writers, he lacks the marks of genuine genius, of inspired ideas of unknowable provenance. But that merely means the pieces of the puzzle are all laid out, and putting them together an easy enough endeavor.
Justice League #2 (DC Comics)
In reviewing the first issue of Bryan Hitch and Tony Daniel’s Justice League, my initial instinct was to contrast such with the premier issues of past Justice League comics, assuming the ambition of any creative lead on the title being to equal or exceed the excellent runs of Morrison and Johns. Along with Brad Meltzer’s tenure on the team, most modern comic readers would consider these to be the high points in the League’s long history. And yet, despite the strong persistent association of superheroes with comic books since since the infancy of both the genre and the medium, most fans of the characters today are primarily – if not exclusively – familiar with them through cartoons and cinema. This is a regrettable fact – why such a sublime storytelling medium as sequential art has become so niche I’ll never know – but perhaps it is the right lens through which to understand the narrative decisions Hitch has been making in his opening arc of Justice League.
All of which is to say it seems as if Hitch might be channeling the Justice League cartoon from Bruce Timm’s animated universe more so than any comics source. Such is one way of accounting for the strong resonance these first two issues share with H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. Season one, episodes one through three of the show steal shamelessly from the science fiction classic, replete with tripedal mechs emerging from beneath the earth, buried long before the rise of modern humans. Likewise, here in issue two, the League connect an extraterrestrial invasion striking down in Gotham and Metropolis with a series of subterranean weapons placed there in the prehistoric past. It’s, as of now, an admittedly thin theory, but perhaps Hitch is exercising some subtly relative to the Rebirth issue that ripped off Mass Effect wholesale.
Or perhaps it truly is a matter of coincidence that Hitch and Timm should both have looked to Wells in starting off their stories. It is after all a fairly obvious source of inspiration. War of the Worlds is one of the first tales of truly global cataclysm, featuring a threat altogether appropriate for the world’s premiere superheroes to team up against. After all, the cinematic Avengers and the Ultimates were similarly both brought together to repel a Chitauri invasion. And moreover, Hitch seems to be pulling from a smorgasbord of science fiction classics. Next issue promises to invoke Jules Verne’s’ Journey to the Center of the Earth.
The most interesting possibility of all would be for my initial analysis last week to have been utterly incorrect – that Hitch is in fact using Morrison’s JLA as the blueprint for his own Justice League. It may be that Hitch is drawing from War of the Worlds, Center of the Earth, and other classics of the genre in a deliberate attempt to recapitulate the opening arc of JLA, whose first four issues – Them!, The Day the Earth Stood Still, War of the Worlds, and Invaders from Mars, respectively – all take their titles from famous sci-fi films.
It should be pointed out that wherever Hitch derives his inspiration, it is not the derivativeness itself which impugns on the quality of his work. Comics have a long and proud tradition of appropriating sources ranging from the western literary canon down to the penny paperback pulps. DC has long acknowledged the debt Batman owes to Zorro, and Stan Lee likewise is open in citing Shelley’s Frankenstein and Stephenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as the genesis of The Hulk. It is not the lack of novelty but rather the lack of nuance which is the chief failure so far. Characters have a tendency to over explain, in stiff and unnatural dialogue, the particulars of their personality and any information important to the plot, as if for the reader’s benefit rather than to whomever they’re speaking.
Even so, Justice League #2 is a marked improvement over the first, both for Bryan Hitch’s plotting and Tony Daniels’ pencils. The mysteries surrounding the Kindred promise to have a bit more depth than the first issue let on, and big set pieces involving Flash and the rookie Green Lanterns are among the best art I’ve seen from Daniels, for a few pages of the issue at least. The art isn’t a selling point in itself – as with Benes, Lee, Reis, and Fabok’s illustrations of the League – but it is by no means a reason to avoid the book, as with so many other Rebirth titles. I still can’t rightly recommend Justice League, but it’s better than before at least.
Though I doubt an interview with myself would be forthcoming (though I have the highest respect for Hitch as an artist, I haven’t exactly held back in voicing criticism against his writing in JLA and Justice League, I’d definitely love to one day hear from Hitch himself which earlier works he was emulating when writing this current arc. Is it indeed Bruce Timm or Grant Morrison, or actually just Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, or some source we can’t yet guess? But as fascinating as finding the truth might prove, perhaps the better question is this: when will Hitch go back to working on art instead? The obvious answer being: not soon enough.